We’ve been on an amazing journey the last few months tracing the origins of Child Advocates – Denver CASA. Our intent has been the creation of a 20th anniversary video to commemorate the history of the organization. When we first set out, we knew that we wanted to convey twenty years somehow. What has changed? How are the lives of our children better? What systemic developments have occurred to accomplish that? To assist us, we started combing through past documents looking for names and dates. Then we started tracking people down and asking if they’ll talk to us and share their story.
It’s been eye-opening to say the least.
For example, one of things explained to us was how little attention used to be given to family law and children’s rights. In the past, people went to law school for two reasons: to study corporate law or criminal law. Family law was a one semester course that people were obligated to take since the question of divorce was bound to come up at some point. In other words, the part of the law that focused on children was, more or less, an afterthought, and not necessarily a specialized area. The reason for that goes even further back in time to when children were considered property, like animals. I know. It’s unbelievable.
While there are many benchmarks that could be discussed, beginning with the story of Mary Ellen Wilson, or the pivotal paper published by Dr. C. Henry Kempe called the “The Battered Child Syndrome”, a lot of truly transformational work has occurred in the last thirty years or so. Many of the people directly responsible for this transformation are still around, sitting on the bench, practicing law, running organizations, engaging with the public, and of course, acting as CASA volunteers! What I have begun to understand from these conversations is how far we’ve come. Indeed, nothing describes the passing of time better than the development of child welfare.
The system is so incredibly better organized and attentive to children. The emergence of family law as its own specialty cannot be underestimated. The way the courts are now organized to deal with families and children is much more humane than it was then. For me, as a part of the CASA program in Denver, I think our program is direct evidence of these changes. The fact that the children have a voice in the process, and that their desires and wishes matter, is especially profound when looking back. Yet even the system’s flexibility with incorporating citizen voice into the process is also a progress. Experts agree now: The community matters. It has to matter.
We’re excited to share our video soon. We also hope you will be able to attend our Light of Hope Breakfast on April 15th.